My Thoughts On Kara

Does anyone remember The Casting? It was released about seven years ago by Quantic Dream, and it served as a demonstration of new technology for the PlayStation 3.

The Casting was a short film showing off their AH-mazing new technology, attempting to capture the emotional attention of the audience. Naturally, I was intrigued, and I was so excited for the extended version to come to my console. Basically it was a teaser for their major project, the successor to Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain.

Personally, I enjoyed Heavy Rain. It introduced the idea of a game that was truly for adults only. Gaming is a medium that a lot of people tend to grow out of  as they get older (myself not included), simply because there are very few games that will accommodate their taste, with the industry aimed at younger people. David Cage, CEO of Quantic Dream (also the guy who played Lucas Kane in Fahrenheit), has often expressed his concern at the growing dominance of the “casual” and “family” gaming market.

“What we try do is convince them to play again by giving them some adult content, some adult experiences and saying this is for you guys. It’s for people expecting something else from gaming than just fun and adrenaline.”

This is what I admire about Quantic Dream; their incredible sense of ambition. A game such as Fahrenheit or Heavy Rain will undoubtedly be looked upon by most as dull and pointless, often being the point of ridicule as opposed to praise. When their latest title was released I was subjected to quite a few jokes from my fella changing the name to clever variants such as “Excessive Precipitation” or “Intense Downpour”.  These annoying remarks aside, I attempted to convince him that it was a revolution in gaming; the beginning of a new age of storytelling and interactivity… but he wasn’t taking me on. I chose to ignore the sometimes horrible control system and soap-opera acting skills, disregarding the gaping plot holes and generally weak story. To me, Heavy Rain was a breath of fresh air. It was trying something different, and hell, it included an interactive sex scene.

It's come a long way, huh?

 

If you’re on the opposing side of the Intense Downpour camp, you can take a look at Trevor’s in-depth analysis (a.k.a. hatred) of the game by clicking this handy link.

Anyway, Quantic Dream have recently released a new video, entitled “Kara”. After Heavy Rain they decided that their new project needed a harder, better, faster, stronger engine…. so they made a whole new one. Cage has talked more regarding his step further towards his ambition of creating an immersive interactive human drama, and their development since the conclusion of their previous game.

“When Heavy Rain was over, we thought why not do exactly the same thing and do a short sequence in real-time, in the game engine to see how our next game is going to benefit from what we’re going to learn?”

As in The Casting, the star of the show is a woman, with Kara being built from scratch and coming to “life” before our eyes. She’s a robot… did I forget to mention that? The tone of the video changes dramatically about five minutes in, and manages to propose an ethical dilemma to the viewer, which while this isn’t a particularly new idea, still stings pretty badly. Take a look for yourself.

Kara attempts to draw on the idea of sentience, and what the term actually means. What defines sentience? Human beings are supposedly the only living things on the planet to be truly aware of our surroundings and of our mortality. When it comes to the creation of androids, and more specifically of computers that can learn, it becomes a bit of a grey area. For humans to create an android capable of so many functions and processes that it actually develops thought, and then to disregard such a machine as simply faulty seems pretty damn dodgy to me.

Although the ethical implications of artificial intelligence are certainly an issue which have already been explored in films, it is has not been deeply undertaken in gaming. If Quantic Dream do indeed follow suit from The Casting and extend Kara into a fully-fledged title, that would be a very exciting prospect.

Another thing I like so much about Kara is the room for interpretation it offers, particularly within the male dialogue. For the most part, I thought the voice of the tester was pretty good, I liked the matter-of-fact tone he adopted for the majority of the video. One suggestion I found intriguing was that Kara was supposed to think, and that the process of disassembly was yet another test in the creation process. Perhaps the whole process was just an elaborate test to ensure that she was sentient, and that they intended to create sentient beings. This could be plausible, as I don’t see why accidently creating a machine capable of human thought would be something they would instantly destroy. Why not take her in for experimentation? Surely it would be a massive achievement, not just faulty wiring?

Naturally, criticism of Kara is imminent, and personally I can name a few things I wasn’t too happy with. After all, I can’t be completely biased. For a start, as mentioned earlier, this idea of sentience isn’t a new one. There will be lots of people screaming “BUT IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE!!!” as they watch the video, and they would be correct. It’s something which has been done better elsewhere, especially in films. My response to this would be that this is a fraction over seven minutes long, and to compare it to a full-length movie would be somewhat unfair.

One part that really grinds my gears is the sudden shift in the attitude of the tester from the initial routine, going through the motions kind of voice to a sleazy, aggressive tone halfway through. Calling her “baby” sounded stupid, it was just unnecessarily patronising. Also, I hated the ending. Why did the guy say, “My God…” so dramatically? A few moments ago he was quite happy to rip her apart, disregarding her as a defective machine. I’m not sure what was supposed to change his mind.  We’re expected to believe that the guy was truly touched by Kara’s desperate pleas, most notably her scream of “I’m scared!”. Personally, I’m not sure this rings true, but that’s just my opinion.

Something I did notice were Kara’s eyes.

Let’s be honest here, this is a robot. A machine. The last time I checked, machines didn’t cry. Perhaps this particular model was created to project genuine human emotions, and therefore was given the ability to cry. Doubtful, I know. The only remaining option is that Quantic Dream added the tears and gave her red-eye to evoke emotion in the viewer. That’s fine, and I completely understand their doing so. It just feels a little like cheating, considering in reality such a creation would not show physical signs of being upset. Certainly not through actual tears.

Perhaps I should talk a little about the stuff that made Kara so pretty! Quantic Dream’s new software is a full performance engine designed specifically for the PS3, this new technology capable of stretching the console to its limit.

“There were many things that we couldn’t do on the old engine, so we decided to build a new one from scratch. Kara’s the very first thing we’ve done with this brand new engine, so it’s not optimized – it’s got 50% of the features that we have right now, as Kara was done a year ago.”

It’s fair to say that the difference between The Casting and Kara is massive, demonstrating a huge change in technological progress in the past seven years. The use of full motion capture is also key to the outcome of such a project, with the actual acting being shot in a single take. The face, body and voice is all recorded at the same time, using up to 65 cameras in their new studio. Pretty impressive considering Heavy Rain was shot with only 28.

All in all, Kara excites me. That isn’t a sex-bot joke, before you say anything. As The Casting did before it, this tech demo has served its purpose in terms of showing off how impressive it looks, and also by leaving gamers wanting more. I want a Kara game, do you?

 

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